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How To Protect Your On-line Privacy

by Nick Pullen and Henry Morgan

Travelling the highways and byways of the Internet can expose you to harmful exploitation. Nick Pullen, a master cybernaught, suggests you enhance your personal security and peace-of-mind by following the "Rules of the Road."

The Internet is a wonderful facilitator. We use it to communicate, do business, access information, news and services, and to shop. But the Internet and the technology which makes it possible also has a darker side. It enables investigators, fraudsters, marketers, stalkers, hackers, lunatics and just plain nosy people, armed with the right equipment and know-how, to appropriate sensitive data and confidential information about you, your personal, financial and professional affairs, whether you are on or off-line.

This sensitive material can be sold to criminal or commercial buyers. Or it can be used to damage you and your personal or commercial interests. It could be used to blackmail or defraud you. It could be used by someone wanting to commit crimes in your name. It could be used to harass you. It can be added to any dossier being discreetly compiled about you by just about anybody for just about any purpose. The Internet could be used by a lunatic or someone with a grudge trying to track you down.

"New viruses are released into the public domain all the time."

Fact is, personal data and sensitive information about your activities and who you are is probably floating around Cyberspace right now - completely open to access. Sending emails, posting to news groups, shopping, and surfing on- line can undermine your personal, financial and professional privacy unless you take precautions.

I am not saying that Cyberspace is riddled with demented hackers or bulging at the seams with
criminal types waiting to target you. But there is an undesirable element out there. If youíve taken steps to protect yourself, you can be certain of not falling foul of them.

Use the following techniques to ensure peace-of-mind on- line.

Preparation For On-line Activity

Restrict the flow of sensitive personal data. Your browser can literally shed information about you. Unless you take precautions to prevent it, without you knowing, your browser will simply distribute your email address and other contact information whilst you are on-line. Protect your main email address: In your browser's Set-up, Options or Preferences menus donít enter your main email address. Instead set up an alternative email address free of charge (at http://www.hotmail.com or http://www.yahoo.com or any of the other on-line email services offering free accounts). Enter that address instead. In the same way you must protect your real identity. In the same browser menus enter a pseudonym instead of your real name.

Ideally, to protect your main (non-Internet) systems and files against on-line privacy threats, use a second computer solely for Internet access and activity.

If you have a personal web page on the Internet donít post personal information on it. Why give passing fraudsters, psychopaths or pranksters your home address, telephone number, or any other personal details?

Essential Ongoing Maintenance

Use virus protection software and use it regularly to sweep files attached to emails and files you download from the Internet. Use Norton Anti-Virus which can be obtained from
http://www.symantec.com. Alternatively, use a free virus scanner such as AVG, available from
http://www.grisoft.com . Make sure your virus detection software is up-to-date. New viruses are released into the public domain all the time. If your software only deals with viruses up to a
certain date it is not providing adequate protection.

"Many spammers are outright con artists."

A badly configured or maintained computer can reveal sensitive information about your Internet
activity even when you are off-line. Windows contains a file called History which acts as a log of
your Internet movements, keeping a record of all the Internet pages you have visited. This history file can last for months unless you configure your browser to prevent this. Go to Tools/Internet Options and set the days to keep pages in history option to zero days. Also ensure you regularly clear the Temp folder and Temporary Internet Files folder which will be found in Windows. Periodically open those folders, select their contents and delete.

Strengthen Your Email Security

The three best pieces of advice I can give you about preserving and protecting your on-line privacy are as follows. 1: Use encryption. 2: Use encryption. 3: Always, always use encryption. Why? Encryption is the most effective defence there is against really determined hackers, stalkers, and fraudsters who capture sensitive data by intercepting unencrypted email and Internet messages. Too many people still send unencrypted emails containing all manner of sensitive personal, financial, and commercial data. Fact: Sending unencrypted email through cyberspace is like sending a postcard through the mail system; anybody and everybody can read it. Use encryption. Which encryption system? PGP encryption is the best around. Download it free of charge from http://www.pgp.com.

If you ever want to send an email without the recipient knowing who you are or your email address, use the Anonymizer remailing service. Send your email to the remailer which strips your actual name and email address from the email header and sends it on anonymously on your behalf. Check this service out at http://www.anonymizer.com.

Ignore any unsolicited emails you receive. These are sent by spammers. Never purchase anything from or send any money or information to a spammer. Many spammers are outright con artists. If you send money to them donít expect to see it again, and donít expect to be supplied with the promised product or service. Donít even reply to spammers who manage to get hold of or buy your email address. Many spammers ask you to send a message back if you want to be removed from their mailing lists. Donít do this. A return message will confirm that your email address is in use. This enhances the value of your address to the spammer. He might well remove you from his mailing list but he will sell your details to many other spammers who are sure to target you.

Posting To News Groups/Chat Groups

Donít reveal personal details to strangers or new friends you meet on-line. You donít know who
youíre talking to in a chat room. For the sake of security donít give out your real name, where you live, where you work, your phone number or any other personal details which might be used against  you or to track you down.

Messages you post on the Internet or on mailing lists reveal your email address. This is easily
discovered and either targeted or used by just about anybody. Services such as Deja News also keeps a record of every posting ever made by an individual. It is a simple matter for someone to search Deja News to find out details of postings made from your email address, which news groups you post to and why. To counter this, have more than one email address. Set up a free web-based email service. Use this for posting to news groups, mailing lists, chat and public rooms. Tip: If no-one knows that this extra email address belongs to you, no-one can link you to it or any posting you make from it. In this way you can post regularly to alt.sheep.fanciers. without any fear of being identified by snoops! Use a further clean email address for small members-only mailing lists and for communications with known, trusted individuals.

Safe Surfing Techniques

Many free sites require you to register personal details before you can get access. Just because a site asks for personal data, it doesnít mean you have to provide it. You have options. Provide a phoney name, address, preferences etc. There is no law against this. Such details are never checked. They are collected for marketing purposes only. Note: If you purchase something you must provide real billing information to avoid claims of fraud.

Beware of sites offering rewards or prizes in exchange for contact details and other sensitive data. Youíre unlikely to win a prize and any data obtained in this manner is sold often to multiple direct marketers. Pretty soon youíll be deluged with unsolicited email, post and telephone calls. Protect your children too. Set clear rules for them. Make sure they know not to reveal personal information when they visit sites unless you okay it.

Web sites store bits of data, Cookies, on your computerís hard drive. Cookies contain your user IDs and passwords to sites. However, Cookies can also be used to trawl for data, tracking your surfing, recording what links and pages you click on, how long you spend on specific pages. This data is used to create a profile about you for marketers. Remember that sensitive information about your Internet preferences, interests and actions could come back to haunt you. For protection turn on cookie notices in your browser. How? Open your Internet browser. Go to Tools/Options/Security. Press the Custom Level button. Select prompt for the Cookie options. Now each time a Web site attempts to place a cookie on your hard drive youíll receive a warning and information about the cookie. Decide whether or not to accept. Only accept cookies from trusted sites. Decline cookies which are not temporary or which provide information to sites other than the one you want to load.

Be anonymous when you surf. How? Use the Anonymizer, a specialised service which disguises your identity and on- line movements. Check out: http://www.anonymizer.com . Alternative anonymising services you might try: http://www.in.tum.de/~pircher/anonymouse/ ; http://www.spaceproxy.com ; http://i-security.addr.com

Safe On-line Shopping

Never send credit card details over the Internet without ensuring that your connection is secure
(encrypted). How to tell? Look for a locked padlock icon at the bottom right hand corner of your
screen. Or see that the security button on your browser bar is highlighted. If the connection is not secure take your business elsewhere. A company that is careless with your information and money does not deserve your trade.

Before doing business with any site, in case of problems, satisfy yourself that the site operator
provides off-line contact information including a postal address and telephone number. Before
ordering, try the phone number to ascertain that it works . Keep a note of these details.

If the connection is not secure take your business elsewhere.

Check to see if the site has a privacy policy. Read it. Does it provide protection for the data you
may submit? If it doesnít, donít release the data.

Many sites display seals or certificates awarded by watchdog organisations which testify to the
trustworthiness of the site. But there can be problems. You canít rely on taking seals at face
value. The reason being that con artists fake the seals or fraudulently post them on their sites.
The solution? Before entering into agreement, contract, or making any payments on-line, check with the seal-issuing body that the siteís seal is authentic.

Do the necessary due diligence: Read terms and conditions before you pay for anything or enter into an agreement. Make sure you know what youíre getting into. Be aware of auto- rebilling scams and hidden fees.

Always print out the order form you use on-line and keep any confirmation of the sale, payment
details and delivery dates you may be emailed.

Find this article of interest? Visit The Freebooter website at http://www.freebooter.com or contact Henry Morgan at henrymorgan@freebooter.com and take advantage of pointers, tips and articles to help you to remain free. Get his free newsletter with even more privacy tips, at admin@freebooter.com


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